BallenIsles Wildlife Foundation
Pet Wellness Seminar
On April 18, 2015 Dr. Mary Fondren and others presented for the BallenIsles wildlife foundation Pet Wellness Seminar held at the Handel Jewish Community Center
Your skin is the largest organ of your body. It is responsible for protecting every other organ within your body. If damaged or diseased, it can be a big deal. This applies to your pet too. A skin allergy, or atopic dermatitis, is the number one reason why owners take their pets to the vet.
Common signs of allergies in your pet include:
- Licking, biting or scratching armpits and belly, face rubbing, feet chewing
- Copper-colored paws or other haired areas
- Hair loss (alopecia)
- Ear pain, inflammation, discharge
- Crusty/scaly/greasy/thickened/smelly skin
The most common causes of allergies in cats and dogs are fleas, food, and airborne pollen allergies (also known as atopy.)
Common pollen allergies are to trees, grasses, weeds, and funguses. Most parts of the United States experience acute allergies only in the spring and fall. Because of our all year beautiful weather, we experience allergen exposure all year round. South Florida-great for arthritis, horrible for allergies!
The age of your pet when skin problems start, his/her breed, and the distribution pattern on the body can give us a hint that allergies are the culprit.
Pets get exposed to allergens just by walking outdoors. The pollen attaches to the feet and underbelly. Use unscented baby wipes each time your pet goes outside to help remove the pollen. Be extremely diligent about monitoring your A/C filters. Use special HEPA filters and change them frequently.
The licking, biting, and scratching can break down the protective barrier of the skin. This sets up for secondary infection-either bacterial or yeast. These secondary infections make your pet even more itchy, so they will need to be treated too-whether systemically (antibiotics for 3-6 weeks or anti-yeast for 4-8 weeks) and/or topically. Chronic inflammation of allergies can also lead to recurrent ear infections, which we will discuss later.
The big thing to remember about allergies is that unless you live in a bubble or can move to new environments annually, you will always be dealing with this problem. There is no quick fix; we can’t ‘cure’ the disease. We just learn to control it. Thus, there needs to be a vested interest by the owner to commit to treatment and be diligent…It takes an astute, dedicated owner to control this disease.
- Steroids-glucocorticoids-ie: Prednisone
- Short term-PU/PD (increased drinking and urination), increased appetite and panting
- Long term-Muscle loss/weakening of ligaments, thinning of skin, poor coat quality, increased susceptibility to infection (especially skin and urinary tract), and gastrointestinal ulcers
- Goal-Use only short term and get to low dose every other day usage
- Advantage-Inexpensive, works pretty well and quickly
- Cyclosporine (Atopica)-immune modulator-used in large volume for people not to reject organ transplants
- Short term problems-nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Long term problems-chronic soft stools, gum overgrowth, dermatitis and skin infection
- Expensive and slow onset of action
- Apoquel-new drug (2015) by Pfizer (now Zoetis)
- Short term problems-vomiting/diarrhea/anorexia
- Don’t use if under a year old, have severe infection, demodex, or any kind of cancer
- Rapid onset of action, modest cost, but limited availability
- Immunotherapy-Treatment of choice for atopic patients. This is a more ‘nutraceutical’ type of treatment and is the same treatment that most humans use. For example, allergy shots.
- Have to have testing done to determine specific allergies; this is intradermal testing, or blood testing.
- Typical test allergies in our tropical environment include: Palm; Cedar; Cypress; Elm; Maple; Melaleuca; Oak; Pine; Mango; Bermuda grass; Johnson grass; Ragweed; Dust mites; ~12 funguses; Cat; Feathers; Fleas; Cockroach
Though the initial evaluation can be expensive, the long term weekly to every other week injections are not. The treatment can also be administered as a sublingual liquid, but must be given a couple times per day. Another problem is slow onset of action, so you have to use other treatments while starting and must be used very long term.
Ancillary Treatment for Atopy:
- Control secondary skin infection and ear infection
- Antihistamines-Dogs: Benadryl; Atarax; Tavist; Claritin. Cats: Chlorpheniramine and Amitriptyline
- Fatty Acid Supplements –lots of debate about dosages and quality
- Control ectoparasites-Fleas; ticks; biting flies
- Don’t forget food allergies! Typical ones are chicken, beef, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, wheat
- Repair the skin barriers-Douxo products and spot-on products with ceramides
- Topicals: Shampoos, lotions, sprays containing hydrocortisone, betamethesone, triamcinolone, or colloidal oatmeals
Dogs’ ears come in all shapes and sizes. Some are long and heavy, like a bloodhound; some are long and hair, like a Springer. Some have pointy pinnas, like Schipperke’s and the original dog, the wolf. Generally, ears are designed to help the dog do a better ‘job.’ The ear canals are fairly similar in all breeds-the canals are ‘L’ shaped with larger lengths for bigger dogs of course. That means that if you are putting ear cleanser or medication into your pet’s ears, you need to put more into a large dog’s ears. Counting drops is not effective!
The shape of the ear pinna, the size of the canal opening, and the length of the ear canal can all influence the likelihood of having ear disease. Also, swimming and/or getting water into the ear when bathing can cause ear infections. The last step of any bath or post-swimming should be cleaning the ears with a ‘drying’ ear cleanser.
The most common cause for recurrent ear infections is allergies. Chronic inflammation breaks down the natural skin barrier of the ear and allows yeast and bacteria to take up residence in the ear. The ear canal is like skin, but invaginated into a canal.
If your pet is shaking his/her head, scratching his/her ears, or has a smelly ear, see your vet. The most important step is to do an ear cytology to check for white blood cells, bacteria, and yeast. A specific medication can then be prescribed to treat the ear. These are usually external ear infections and do not penetrate the ear canal unless it has been chronic. If it is a middle ear infection, there is usually a head tilt and extreme pain-maybe even facial nerve damage with a Bells Palsy presentation.
There are so many different ear medications out there; from triple medication types to flushes for extremely resistant infection to types that provide repository treatments. Your vet will know what to use.
Let’s review the steps to proper ear cleaning:
- First, apply a generous amount of pet ear cleanser (Epi-Otic, Chlorhexiderm flush, etc.) directly into the ear canal. * Dilution is the Solution to the Pollution
- Massage the ears (until you hear a squishy sound), then step back and let pet shake.
- Next, dry the ears and remove any dirt or wax with a dry cotton ball. You can use a Q-tip only in the upper crevices, but never down in the ear canal. As with people, “you never put anything smaller than your finger in the ear canal.”
If upon inspection you find your pet has a foul odor or colored discharge to his ears, he already has an ear infection and should be examined by your veterinarian.
Oral disease is one of the most common, yet serious, health problems in veterinary medicine, afflicting approximately 80% of dogs and 70% of cats by age three. Advanced stages of oral disease (periodontal disease) have been associated with distant organ diseases, especially the heart and kidneys. Gingivitis, infection, which occurs at the gum line, advances to periodontitis, which is infection and inflammation of the deeper tissue surrounding and supporting the tooth. Small dogs develop deeper infections faster than large dogs just because of proportions. Brachycephalic, or smushed face dogs, like pugs or Boston’s, get earlier disease because their teeth are crowded and frequently crooked or some teeth can even be turned sideways.
Signs of oral disease include:
- Bad breath
- Red, swollen gums
- Loose or broken teeth
- Heavy tartar
- Swelling or draining hole in face under the eye
- Difficult eating-though not as common as you would think
When I lift the lips of a pet in the exam room and want to go, “Gross! Have you seen your pet’s teeth?!” owners are amazed that their pet has a problem. “Well, he eats just fine!” It is difficult to convince people that this is painful and an infection and disease. The best treatment for oral disease is prevention-that means brushing! Plaque hardens into tarter in 24-48 hours so brushing needs to be done daily to every other day at least. Twice daily would be great, but I try not to ask too much of owners so they won’t be frustrated and stop trying. Pet toothpaste should be used; not human toothpaste because if swallowed, fluoride and detergents of human toothpaste can be harmful and cause vomiting.
Brushing is the best preventative for tooth care.
Hints for learning to brush:
- Do early and often
- Make it fun and routine
- Use your finger to brush first
- Next, use gauze wrap around your finger
- Graduate to a true finger brush or toothbrush
There are lots of confusing products out there for dental care. The worst products are the ones that cause your pet to fracture his/her teeth, ie: Antlers and bones! Bully sticks can be too hard for most dogs’ enamel. The most common fracture is a slab fracture of the big, 3-rooted carnaissal (or upper 4th premolar) tooth.
Good things to chew are C.E.T Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews, T/D bites, and Greenies. There are good water additives available to decrease bacterial contents in the mouth without sterilizing the gut. There are also antiseptic sprays and gels to help with gum health.